A new research center in California is about to be established after the U.S. Department of Energy has invested $122 million. Researchers from the new center will try to find ways of generating fuels made by using sunlight. The project will be led by a team of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Caltech.
According to Nate Lewis, director of the center and a chemistry professor at Caltech, the goal is to commercialize fuels made using only carbon dioxide, sunlight and water.
During the last years, different scientists and researchers have tried to develop ways to mimic photosynthesis (the way a plant can capture energy produced by sun and store it in chemical bonds by splitting carbon dioxide and water).
But the rhythm of development has been slow. In this center new methods to accelerate the process of discovering new photovoltaic and catalytic catalytic material will be created.
“So instead of the few dozen choices for catalysts that we have, we want to be in a position to choose from millions of different candidates,” says Harry Atwater, a professor at Caltech, and a team leader on the project.
Two years ago, Daniel Nocera, a professor of chemistry at MIT made one of the biggest discoveries in this area. He created a cheap catalyst that would release oxygen by splitting water. “There are various individual groups making progress on different fronts, but there is no one benchmarking these catalysts to determine which one is better than the other ones. To see solar energy become a scalable, economically viable reality, collaboration is essential,” says Lewis.
For the beginning, there will be two facilities: one on the Caltech campus and one on the Berkeley Labs campus. In the next five years about 30 principal investigators and 150 researchers will work full-time on the project. They will try to develop light absorbers, energy-storage materials and better catalysts.